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Building a Business Case for GIS Data

Selina Sandoval

Every year WhiteStar hosts one-hour breakfast sessions in six cities in Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma. This year’s theme was, “Building a Business Case for GIS Data Investments.”  

Commonly, customers must show the financial impacts of a contemplated asset purchase to upper management, taking ROI and Internal Rates of Return into consideration as well as other specific business benefits.

Customers customarily evaluate the total cost of software and business services, but seldom give any thought to evaluating data in the same way. These costs can easily amount to several hundred thousand dollars per year for a relatively small area and ultimately represents 80% or more of the cost of your GIS implementation. Why have data expenses been ignored? 

It’s likely that a land software vendor is your first point of contact deploying GIS in your organization.  Since they want all of your budget, they often obscure or minimize the cost of data. It’s a bit of a shell game, they hope you won’t notice, and further hope you can build your critical projects with some scrapings from the Internet.  We think customers will come to distrust vendors in the long term as they purposefully concealed a major cost center.

We find it best to address all costs and processes in an upfront manner. WhiteStar provides a variety of tools to help you do this on the data side, particularly if you are contemplating downloading and maintaining “free” data. The costs for even a state area can exceed several hundred thousand dollars per year in an organization not geared towards creating and maintaining GIS efforts.  

If you are purchasing competitive data from another vendor, then it makes sense to truly compare quality and not just prices as is the naive approach.  We would say that more than 25% of the time, customers expend large amounts of time and resources before returning to WhiteStar to obtain curated, updated, accurate, and maintained data staffed by knowledgeable professionals who are willing to answer the phone and research your questions.

Our website has a variety of spreadsheets to help you build business cases for data such as ROI - Return on Investment.  The WhiteStar Grid Spreadsheet  example is a project spreadsheet showing the costs for building high quality data from raw BLM data. (Some software vendors will suggest you use the raw BLM data for projects, but we strongly suggest otherwise.) You will want to plug in your own numbers, to show your own internal scenarios which are available from in-house cost accountants or your own experience.  

We suggest using these tools to build a solid case for investing in data licenses with a schedule for establishing a projected Internal Rate of Return for presentation to management of an overall business case.

MAPPS: Geospatial Legislation and You

Selina Sandoval

WhiteStar is a long standing member of the only national association of firms in the surveying, spatial data and geographic information systems field in the United States - MAPPS. The group is bipartisan, and meets formally twice each calendar year to discuss legislation having an impact on mapping and mapping programs in the US.  We just held our winter meeting in Tampa.  The organization’s leadership works full time between meetings on issues guided by the MAPPS board of directors and members.   National parcel mapping, cadastral mapping, lidar, 3D Elevation data (3-DEP) and geological mapping (and its associated funding or lack thereof) are a few of the topics of interest to industry, WhiteStar and its customers.  

For example, did you know that the US has no GIS database of the real estate property it owns?  Without such information, every agency from the Post Office to Defense to the USGS and BLM in the Department of Interior have literally no idea of the precise properties each owns, whether it makes financial sense to own them, or if they’re duplicative of other facilities.  Some baby steps were taken in the last Congress towards with the passage into law of H.R. 6451 and 4465 strengthen the Federal Real Property Council to identify properties for collocation opportunities and a Public Buildings Reform Board to identify properties for disposal.  These were signed into law by President Obama in December, 2016. 

For the past several Congresses, MAPPS and its members have been working for the passage of the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly (108th-115th Congresses) designated "Managing Federal Real Property" one of the high-risk areas within the Federal government most prone to waste, fraud and abuse.  Senator Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the last incarnation of the FLAIR Act, and included it in the energy bill that passed the Senate, but unfortunately time ran out at the end of the session for House and Senate conferees to agree on an energy package.  We expect the bill will be reintroduced, and we are particularly fond of the strong GIS language in the last version and hope to see that again.

There is also no nationally coordinated parcel dataset for the USA.  It is a national disgrace that such a dataset does not exist to support infrastructure, emergencies, disasters and other applications. One wonders how FEMA can fulfill its mandate at all, and we all know what a failure the National Flood Insurance Program has been without proper maps and data.  WhiteStar has a team of people actively culling and obtaining parcel data from every available county in the United States.

In March, MAPPS members including yours truly will go to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to work with Senators and Representatives to garner support for important initiatives that the MAPPS Board of Directors has identified such as the FLAIR act and the National Parcel Dataset Initiative.  We hope that the new administration will listen more earnestly to arguments about waste reduction and efficiency improvements.  

Recently I was appointed the chairman of the MAPPS Cadastre Task Force, so I am actively seeking your input on what you think is important for the health of your business in the current session of Congress.   


"From oil and gas well location surveys to topography, boundaries to pipelines, remote sensing, LiDAR data, digital imagery, and hyperspectral data to support oil and gas exploration, development, decommissioning and monitoring projects, MAPPS has been in the forefront of utilization of geospatial technologies, sound energy and infrastructure policy, and the need for a current, accurate inventory of government-owned land and buildings."

                    John Palatiello - MAPPS Executive Director
 

Giving, and Stories Through Maps

Selina Sandoval

Each year at WhiteStar, we give each employee $200 to donate to a cause they support.  WhiteStar values giving back something to the community, and this program has been well received by employees.   The only requirement is that the charity qualify for 5013(c) under the IRS tax code.  Other than that, the employee can choose any cause.  This year, we supported fifteen different causes from humane societies to cancer awareness to youth soccer and homeless organizations. Next year we hope to do even more.  

In other news, I wanted to publicly thank our partner Esri for an amazing game changing software product - Esri Story Maps. This web application lets you tell a story using your own maps, text, and data.  Think of how many times you have wanted to tell others about your project but cringed dragging visitors back to see a map on a monitor.  Using Esri Story Maps, you can tell your mapping story and then share it via a link in an email, blog, or newsletter. 

Here is a link to an interesting Esri Story Map on the bombing of Pearl Harbor marking the USA’s entrance into World War II.   Here is another Esri Story Map on some troublesome borders around the world.  Pointing  your browser to the Esri Story Maps site, you can see many additional examples.

At WhiteStar, we use Esri Story Maps to better communicate what we do.  If you are a GIS professional, you have doubtless felt frustrated explaining your job to people to others who do not work in the industry - “I’m in Maps.”  Using Esri Story Maps, we can now show people a snapshot of what we do along with explanatory text.  This entertaining example shows two Government Land Office (BLM) survey plat maps for a single township in Wyoming.  We georeferenced the old plat and the new plat.  Using the spyglass, you can move the lens over to compare the top map (oldest) with the underlying map (newest) to see the very dramatic differences.  Obviously keeping your digital land grid data up-to-date and not just downloading “whatever data you find” is critical.  In this case, it makes a difference of up to a mile in accuracy!

Here is another Esri Story Map example showing the entire lifeline of our data from ancient hardcopy map to digital vector data. 

Bottom line, our partnership with Esri - we’re a Silver Partner - brings value to our customers.  We understand, play with, and use a wide variety of Esri software offerings both in development and production, and then we share our expertise and quality products with you.   Without the partner program, we simply would not bring as much value in our offerings.